This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A01773.
The 1950s were witness to the solidification of Calder's reputation as the premier American sculptor in the United States and abroad. In 1952, he was chosen to represent the United States in the Venice Biennale, in which he won the grand prize for sculpture. During this period, he was frequently traveling abroad, accepting commissions for public spaces, including most notably Acoustic Ceiling, 1954 for the Central University of Venezuela and the hanging mobile for Idlewild Airport in 1957 (now known as John F. Kennedy Airport). On a personal level, Calder purchased a 17th century stone house in Sache, France which helped house the commissions for increasingly monumental mobiles and stabiles.
Calder's propensity for larger scale works is reflected in the individual mobiles and stabiles, which the present work Number 1 to 5 is a superb example. The impressive scale and breadth of the work is exemplary of the period. Another attribute is that while the mobile retains the asymmetry and variation found in his earlier mobiles, the individual elements are less biomorphic and more geometric in appearance. The distinct clarity of the shapes is further heightened by the strong color. Calder has stated in 1951, "I have chiefly limited myself to the use of black and white as being the disparate colors. Red is the color most opposed to both of these-and then, finally, the other primaries. The secondary colors and intermediate shades serve only to confuse and muddle the distinctness and clarity." (A. Calder, "What Abstract Art Means to Me," Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, 18, no. 3, Spring 1951, pp.8-9).
Calder's unique abstraction stood in stark contrast with then current ethos of Abstract Expressionism. His art is essentially non-referential. He liked to call his sculpture "objects" as to dismiss any further speculation into the nature of his art. Marla Prather touches upon this topic: "In the 1950s, the heyday of the New York School, Calder, as a slightly older artist who developed within a largely European context, had little apparent contact with fellow artists among the abstract expressionists. Intractably ant-theoretical, Calder's brand of abstraction evinced no impulse toward the emotion-laden self-expression of gestural painters in postwar America and France or toward the mythic, "tragic and timeless" themes that permeated the work of colorfield artists such as Mark Rothko or Barnett NewmanThe work Calder made in the 1950s seemed impervious to the traumas of the Cold War-even his gravity-bound, forty-ton stabiles avoid ponderousness and convey an exhilaration generally equated with an irrepressible optimism." (M. Prather, Alexander Calder, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279).
The structure of Number 1 to 5 is a complex series of interconnecting groups of elements. Calder sheds light on his technique: "About the method of my work: first it's the state of mind. Elation. I only feel elation if I've got a hold of something good. I used to begin with fairly complete drawings, but now I start by cutting out a lot of shapes. Next, I file them and smooth them off. Some I keep because they're pleasing or dynamic. Some are bits I just happen to find. Them I arrange them, like papier collé, on a table, and 'paint' them-that is, arrange them, with wires between the pieces if it's to be a mobile, for the overall pattern. Finally I cut some more on them with my shears, calculating for balance this time." (A. Calder, quoted in J. Lipman, Calder's Universe, New York, 1976, p. 264). Calder was cognizant of the overall pattern and at the same time, he was able to calibrate the movement and balance of the discrete shapes.
Number 1 to 5 exhibits the kind of exuberance with its buoyant forms and the interaction among the elements. There is juxtaposition between the larger, curvilinear elements and the smaller sharper-edged triangles and trapezoids. They rotate on several axes, creating the visual equivalent of a miniaturized cosmos. This is certainly one of Calder's main preoccupations of heavenly bodies circulating with simultaneous orbits. "Since the beginning of my work in abstract art, and even though it was not obvious at that obvious at that time, I felt that there was no better model for me to work from than the Universe... Spheres of different sizes, densities, colors and volumes, floating in space, surrounded by vivid clouds and tides, currents of air, viscosities and fragrances-in their utmost variety and disparity." (A. Calder quoted in, Exposicion Calder, exh. cat., Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, 1955).
Calder with Yellow Disc, Paris, 1954 c 2004 Estate of Alexander Calder/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Calder in his studio in Roxbury, 1955 Photograph by Ugo Mulas c 2004 Estate of Alexander Calder/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York